Adrian Tennant gives us some useful tips and ideas for teaching vocabulary with minimal resources.

Back to the board

Level: All
Aim: This is a great revision activity.


  1. Choose a number of words that you want the class to revise.
  2. Place a chair in front of the board facing the class (so that it faces away from the board).
  3. Ask one of the students to sit in the chair (with their back to the board).
  4. Write one of the words on the board.
  5. The other students need to explain the word on the board (using English) to the student sitting in the chair. Their task is to guess the word.
  6. Repeat the activity with the other words, choosing a different student to sit in the chair each time.

Added value

Level: Intermediate and above
Aim: This activity is good for word building and extending vocabulary.


  1. Put the class into two teams (for large classes make more teams).
  2. Explain that you will give the students a three-letter word and the teams will take turns to add letters, creating longer words.
  3. They can rearrange the letters, but must use all the letters + 1.
  4. You might want to demonstrate the activity, e.g.: EAR; Team 1 = REAL; Team 2 = LATER; Team 1 = TALLER, etc.
  5. Teams continue to take turns until one team can no longer make a word.
  6. To keep the game flowing you might want to set a time limit of one minute per turn.
  7. You might also want to make the game more competitive by scoring. The team that wins each round gets the same number of points as letters in their word.

Chain words

Level: All
Aim: Another activity that is useful for revision. This one also has the added bonus of being good for spelling.


  1. Sit your students in a circle (if possible – otherwise make sure that everyone knows who they follow).
  2. The first student says a word, then the next student must say a word beginning with the last letter of the previous word, and so on.
  3. You might want to give a visual demonstration on the board, i.e:
    Class -> School -> Leg -> Girl -> Lion -> Nut -> Teacher -> Route -> End -> D ….
  4. Keep it snappy by giving very short time limits to think of a word. If a student can’t think of a word they must move their chair back and are ‘out’. Also, words are not allowed to be repeated. The winner is the last student in.
  5. If you want, you could say that all the words need to be connected to a topic, i.e. food:
    Apple -> Egg -> Grapes -> Soup -> Peach, etc.

What’s the group? (1)

Level: Intermediate and above
Aim: This activity is a good way of practising topics and word families.


Students are used to putting words in groups, but often the groupings or categories are too obvious. For more advanced students make the activity trickier by having unusual groupings, e.g.:

What’s the link (topic) for these words? Chip, Slice, Nutmeg, Chop.

Some students might say ‘Kitchen’, but it could also be ‘Football’. (A chip (n) is when the ball is lifted over someone’s head using the foot, a slice (n) is when the ball is miskicked, to nutmeg (v) is when a player kicks the ball through another players legs and then runs around that other player and carries on playing with the ball, and to chop (v) is when one player kicks another player causing them to fall down.) Think of a few groupings of your own, and then ask the students to think of some of their own.

What’s the group? (2)

Level: All
Aim: This activity is a good way of practising topics and word families.


  1. Choose a topic and write down around eight words linked to that topic (starting with the harder, or more obscure, ones and working up to the more obvious).
  2. Read the words out one by one and see who can guess the topic first.
  3. To make it more competitive put the students into teams and award points depending on how quickly they guess the topic.
  4. An example of this activity might be: Boot, Stick, Lights, Belt, Steer, Wheels, Petrol, Drive = Car or Vehicle.

Words that go together

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: This activity is an excellent way of practising collocation and compound words.


  1. Choose some words which either collocate or create compounds.
  2. Make sure that each word has three or four collocates or compounds.
  3. Put your students into teams (groups).
  4. Read out (or write on the board) one half of the collocation or compound.
  5. Each group now has one turn to guess the ‘key’ word.
  6. If nobody guesses, give the next word (clue) and guess again, e.g.:
    Light ____.
    ____ work.
    ____ wife.
    Detached _____.
    Key word = House.
  7. Note: Some words will collocate with many words, but tell your students you are looking for one that collocates with all the words on your list.

Who am I?

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: This is a good activity to practise adjectives.


  1. Each student needs a blank piece of paper.
  2. Ask them to write the following: an adjective they think describes themselves; an adjective other people might use to describe them; an adjective that is totally opposite to what they are like.
  3. Ask the students NOT to tell anyone what they are writing.
  4. Collect in the pieces of paper.
  5. Randomly read out the adjectives from the pieces of paper and see if the students can guess who is being described.

Wrong word

Level: All

Aim: This is a good activity for practising collocations.


  1. Choose a number of sentences which contain a word that doesn’t really fit (a good source for these is your students’ own writing).
  2. Write each sentence up on the board.
  3. Ask the students to work in pairs or groups. Their task is to discuss each sentence, find the wrong word and replace it with the correct one, e.g:
    He kissed her on her laps. (lips)
    They war some nice new clothes. (wore)
    You need to take a jump of faith. (leap)